What an interesting time for enterprise communications!
Developments in the last six months portend seismic change in the enterprise communications & collaboration space. Enterprise communications tend to move in 10 year-type cycles: the 1990s was the decade of email, the 2000s the decade of Cisco VoIP & WebEx, 2007-2017 was about email moving to the cloud and also the era of Skype for Business. What will we see “stick” at scale in the coming decade? For the first time in perhaps 20 years, the jury is out.
The incumbents in this space are Microsoft Teams (carrying the torch from Skype for Business) and Cisco SPARK (carrying the torch from Call Manager & WebEx). However, a recent proliferation of credible challengers – Slack, Facebook Enterprise Messenger/WhatsApp Enterprise, Google Hangouts Meet/Chat, Amazon Chime, and Atlassian Stride – threatens to up-end the established status quo. Each of these new contenders bring unique strengths that gives them a credible shot at winning the enterprise.
How did we arrive here? A powerful shift playing out in the UC space (consumer-oriented over the last 5 years, and then more enterprise-centric over the last 2) is the power of context, best illustrated by WhatsApp. WhatsApp is essentially VoIP for consumers, based on groups as a central launching pad for real-time chats and calls. Its winning formula of having communications implicitly follow a theme (the title of the group), defined membership, multi-media real-time chat, a mobile-first experience, and archived communications has vaulted it into the ranks of the most successful communications solutions ever, now with 1.3 billion users across the planet.
Back in 2013 I recall one of our customer CIOs in Asia asking us whether we had recommendations for an enterprise version of WhatsApp; the CIO and his staff were already using WhatsApp for mission-critical collaboration during IT outages. Four years later, WhatsApp Enterprise – being rolled out by Facebook – is that very solution. In fact, all of the above noted seven (7) contenders would do a fine job of meeting that specific scenario.
Enterprise Communications Innovation
This innovation raises rather fundamental questions for enterprise CIOs and CTOs evaluating their enterprise communications & collaboration futures: Is the nirvana end-state a single solution across a global enterprise still realistic? Should they now focus on a multi-vendor end-state, leveraging what each vendor does best? How relevant will voice remain over the next ten years? How should they think about global-scale voice, and how relevant will carriers still be? Is “content is king” the new “back to the future” enterprise reality (vs. “calls are king”)? How addressable are the global compliance aspects of UC, especially given the emerging enterprise focus on global data privacy? With significant innovation around communications for transactions (e.g. B2C transactions), is convergence between internal communications and consumer communications still realistic or desired? Going forward for enterprise communications, how should enterprises balance central IT control vs. grassroots end-user adoption?
This is a time of unprecedented innovation and evolution in enterprise communications. The questions above and the set of contenders seem to certainly herald a new world order. At the very least we can probably agree that we are looking at a new enterprise communications order!
Check back to read a new set of blog posts with more detailed drill down on key market dynamics and relative strengths/challenges of the top 7 contenders.
After a nine-year stint as the Unify Square founding CEO, Sonu Aggarwal (the author of this particular blog post series) has transitioned to a new role as CTO. He looks forward to working closely with our CEO , John Case to help continue to propel impressive software-as-a-service growth., As CTO, he will drive our mid- to long-term technology strategy and assist our strategic customers & partners with their enterprise roadmaps, helping them to navigate key ‘new world order’ industry trends.